Personality Psychology and Depression

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This paper presents an analysis of the connection between personality psychology and depression. Today, many attempts are made to investigate depressive symptoms and the effects of mental health disorders on human behaviors and relationships. The evaluation of several psychological models should help to understand depression better and focus on the development of personal qualities. Personality traits are discussed through the prism of the five-factor model and the three-factor model developed at different decades to create a background for further steps in discovering the connection between depression and personality. On the one hand, it seems that personality predetermines mental health disorders because of unpredictable reactions to the environment. On the other hand, depression is a factor that causes changes in personality. The nature of this interrelation is poorly researched, and this study uses adolescents as a population with multiple personality traits and depressive systems that have different forms and outcomes. Psychology of personality is proved as an appropriate science to contribute to effective depression assessment.

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Keywords: personality, depression, neuroticism, extraversion, psychology


In today’s world, the worth of personality psychology is explained by people’s intention to understand themselves and their behaviors. Psychology is interpreted as a science, the goal of which is to analyze the human mind and behavior, and personality psychology is its largest branch that studies the existing variety of personalities. Psychologists and researchers are involved in multiple interventions to clarify interpersonal relationships and use models to explain differences. In this paper, attention will be paid to the five-factor model (FFM) of personality and the three-factor model as a means to determine the connection between personality psychology and mental health disorders, depression in particular. Depression is a serious mood disorder that influences the quality of life and may be observed in adolescents or older adults. If there is an opportunity to study the peculiarities of depression, this chance should be used to consider human thoughts as contributors to a safe future. Personality traits may be the risk factors for depression among adolescents, and depression, in its turn, could lead to the change of personality, and the goal of personality psychology is to introduce an appropriate model to study this connection.

Personality Psychology Models

Five-Factor Model

To explain their physical and mental illnesses, people like to use a number of approaches, either properly evidenced or subjective. However, the connection between personality traits and mental health disorders has existed for centuries, and depression may be analyzed through the prism of personality psychology (Fournier & Tang, 2017). There is no specific date when the first attempts to use personality traits as the determinants of depression were made, but in the 1980s, the FFM of personality was developed. It was not a product of one psychologist but the result of multiple studies about the lexical approach to personality and the statistical method known as factor analysis (Fournier & Tang, 2017). Human behavior could be explained by a variety of means, and the supporters of the FFM model used five concepts – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (or OCEAN) (Fournier & Tang, 2017). The openness to experience proves the intention of humans to try something new and the importance of motivation. Conscientiousness shows the necessity to follow the rules and keep a tidy and safe environment to achieve the required outcomes, and agreeableness is a synonym to cooperation.

In discussing the connection between personality traits and depression, these factors may play a role if low scores are achieved. However, Fournier and Tang (2017) suggest focusing on neuroticism and extraversion as the factors that reveal several patterns of depression. Neuroticism is a dimension of human behavior from emotionally stable to emotionally unstable. This trait shows the reasons for a person to worry, feel anxious, think about problems, and underestimate values. It is a strong predictor of mental disorders in terms of which a person is not able to see positive aspects but remains under the influence of negativity and low satisfaction (Murray & O’Neill, 2019). People fail to identify and cope with stress and become frustrated because of their impossibility to meet social standards and expectations. As a result, such feeling as anger is developed and prevents doing something good or helpful.

Compared to neuroticism that is related to negative emotions, extraversion is defined as a positive emotion when an individual demonstrates well-developed social skills, desire to communicate, and cooperation with strangers. It is like the opposite side of depression, so, a lower level of extraversion determines depression and anxiety in people (Murray & O’Neill, 2019). Extraversion is negatively correlated with depression symptoms and provokes strange behaviors as soon as a person can no longer stay in public or be the center of a group. There is a specific line between extraversion and introversion (when social isolation is preferable), and depression should not be confused with introversion.

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Emotions of depressed people are hard to predict, and the analysis of neuroticism and extraversion traits reveals a number of patterns of depression and explanations of human behaviors. Radical thinking, jumping to fast and usually wrong conclusions, emotional attachment, and overgeneralization are rooted in neuroticism and aim at provoking depressed behaviors. Neuroticism is used to explain such patterns of depression as a feeling of guilt, anger, panic, aggression, anxiety, and envy. Similar emotions and neurotic traits make people self-aware, intelligent, and able to set high expectations. Neurotic individuals pay much attention to the environment and turn ordinary problems and fears into phobias. As a result, depression is an outcome of human behavior and the inability of people to control the impact of an external world on their mental health. In combination with the effects of extraversion (when social cooperation is high), patients are at high risk of uncontrolled depression. Extraverts are characterized by complex behaviors and the necessity to cooperate with the outside world (Fournier & Tang, 2017). Such personality traits may be present during the whole life and never cause depression, but their risks must be understood and recognized.

Three-Factor Model

As well as any psychological model or thought, the FFM has its supporters and opponents, and it is normal to address other alternatives. Barnes and Mongrain (2019) introduced a three-factor model to predict personality changes and assess psychological deviations that lead to depression. Each factor has its characteristics and specific impact on people. For example, equanimity reflects interpersonal relationships and positive mental states, which says about low levels of depression. According to Desbordes et al. (as cited in Barnes & Mongrain, 2019), equanimity is explained as “an even-minded mental state” (p. 6). To be effective and bring positive results, human thoughts and actions have to stay in harmony, and equanimity is the factor that promotes this requirement. The second factor is known as anxiety and includes such traits as nervousness, dependency, and emotional instability (Barnes & Mongrain, 2019). It has similar qualities with a factor from another model that has already been discussed – neuroticism. Therefore, such correlation as higher depression and high anxiety factor is usually observed in people who feel threats and poor confidence in their abilities.

In this model, there is the third factor, known as agency. It denotes such qualities as self-efficacy, curiosity, and motivation to do something or be involved in something (Barnes & Mongrain, 2019). Compared to other traits, when people take actions in order to meet some expectations or achieve benefits, agency is a quality that is based on personal intentions and desire to know more. Therefore, self-motivation is one of the factors when low depression and high well-being are observed. If people are satisfied with what they do, they can be involved in self-assessment and demonstrate their compassion to their families, peers, and friends. Understanding depression through this third-factor model and the two factors of the FFM shows the imbalance that exists between what is done and what is expected to be done.

Personality and Depression Connection

Psychological Inflexibility

The field of personality psychology is complex and determined by a number of internal and external factors. Gilbert, Tonge, and Thompson (2018) use the concept of psychological inflexibility to explain the association between mental health disorders and personality traits. This factor is identified as a condition when human lives get complicated because of abnormal functioning and poor adaptation skills. There are several critical facets that promote the development of inflexibility in individuals. They include attention shifting, perseverative thinking, personality rigidity, negative emotional inertia, and low respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity (Gilbert et al., 2018). The presence of such a variety of factors is explained by the complexity of the progress of depression and personality, either together or separately. On the one hand, it is a person who makes independent decisions, takes responsibility, and chooses. All these steps may serve as the causes of depression. However, on the other hand, depression is a disorder that is caused by some environmental or external factors. Personality may have no relation to the progress of depression, but depression could change personality in many unpredictable ways.

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Psychological inflexibility is associated with depression as it proves the impossibility of avoiding unwanted feelings and emotions. Kato (2016) investigated depression on the Japanese sample and used such processes of psychological flexibility as an embracement of negative emotions (not avoiding them), obtaining distance, and changing thoughts. As soon as a person is not able to control his or her behaviors and thoughts, psychological reactions turn out to be inflexible, promoting avoidance and neglect. In their study, Gilbert et al. (2019) focus on the impact of such patterns as perseverative thinking, emotional inertia, and personality rigidity and their impact on depression progress. In today’s world, many unpleasant events cannot be ignored, and the task of a person is not to prevent them but to get prepared and deal with them.

The use of a particular quality contributes to the development of depression in a special way. For example, perseverative thinking is repetitive thinking or rumination that provokes negative mood and worry. People cannot get rid of pessimistic thoughts and harmful images and give rise to depression. Personal rigidity is another trait in terms of which individuals do not consider alternatives, which narrows the scope of experiences and promotes social isolation and depression (Gilbert et al., 2019). Finally, depression is frequently observed in people who cannot get used to the environment and demonstrate the required emotional change. Gilbert et al. (2019) call it emotional inertia and use the emotional context insensitivity theory of depression to prove the lack of flexibility as another depression trigger. The presence of these three factors (inertia, rigidity, and rumination) usually indicates depression (not always anxiety) tendencies. Such symptoms as loss of interest, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and hopelessness are observed and better understood as the outcomes of personality development (Kato, 2016). Depression is not just a human reaction to external factors and changes but a result of human behaviors and thoughts, determined by obtained qualities.

Positive Emotionality

Depression may also be examined as an outcome of negative and positive emotional states. Khazanov and Ruscio (2016) define depression as a negative relationship with personality traits by positive emotionality (PE) constructs. A low number of positive emotions also serve as a cause of depression, and to predict the development of this mental disorder, PE should be studied as a heritable trait that can hardly be changed. To understand the relationship between PE and depression, it is necessary to remember two main definitions. First, depression is always defined as a negative emotional state. Second, a positive emotional state has to be absent in depressed people. Therefore, the analysis of depression through PE is possible, with low PE as a vulnerable factor for depression (Khazanov & Ruscio, 2016). Van Beveren, Harding, Beyers, and Braet (2017) recommend developing emotion regulation interventions and skills to predict the low ratings of PE and enhance positive emotions. Behavior is never driven by emotions only, and people have to negotiate between their feelings and situations. Community members share their experiences in encouraging each other and decrease depression symptoms through cooperation, communication, and feedback systems.

Depression Among Adolescents

Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents

Relying on the results of the discussion about the impact of personal traits on depression, it is possible to say that this mental disorder is activated because of certain thoughts and behavior. Each group of people (children, adolescents, young adults, or older adults) has a list of symptoms to be identified for a depression diagnosis. In this paper, adolescents are chosen for analysis because this age period is usually characterized by frequent sleep problems, low self-esteem, and poor social functioning (Kouros, Morris, & Garber, 2016). There are also several individual factors (traits) that influence the quality and level of health conditions and reactions to external influences. For example, within-person changes differ in adolescent girls and boys: girls experience concentration problems, and boys become irritable frequently (Kouros et al., 2016). However, if irritability is a direct cause of depression, lack of concentration may result in low school-performance or neglecting something, which are the indirect causes of depression in young girls.

Interactions that Lead to Depression

In addition to personal traits and behaviors, relationships between adolescents become a significant factor in depression diagnosis and treatment. According to Schwartz-Mette and Smith (2016), mental health may be impacted by peers in terms of contagion processes. Co-rumination includes the importance of discussing and analyzing current problems, events, and plans in groups. Using the studies by Rose, Schwartz-Mette and Smith (2016) admit that adolescents like to pay their attention to negative thoughts and changes. As a result, co-rumination facilitates peer impact on their behaviors and provokes depression contagion within their friendship. Young people observe each other’s emotions, share knowledge, and explain the importance of experience in problem-solving and decision-making. If one experience adolescent admits a problem and uses depression as a reaction to the situation, there are high chances for other representatives of the community to demonstrate similar emotions. The crowd factor plays a crucial role, and as well as depression of one person can lead to depression of many, recovery of the one could result in the recovery of the crowd.


In general, the analysis of depression progress in humans may be advanced by a variety of means, and the application of personality psychology is one of the alternatives. Depression is a mental health disorder that is connected to the changes in human behaviors and may be explained as a quality or a personality trait. In this paper, attention was paid to neuroticism and anxiety as the examples of negative emotionality, extraversion, equanimity, and agency as the examples of positive emotionality. It may be concluded that personality is a serious risk factor for depression and other mental health disorders. At the same time, depression leads to changes in human behaviors and determines personality. This connection between personality and depression is evident either in adolescents (when the first signs of mental health disorders are noticed) or adults (when the role of the environment becomes remarkable). That is why to understand the development of depression and its symptoms, psychology of personality may be applied as a supplementary science. In this analysis, several models were discussed to identify how the environment influences society and what society could do to improve the environment.


Barnes, C., & Mongrain, M. (2019). A three-factor model of personality predicts changes in depression and subjective well-being following positive psychology interventions. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-13.

Fournier, J. C., & Tang, T. Z. (2017). Personality and depression. In R. J. DeRubeis & D.R. Strunk (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of mood disorders (pp. 154-164). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Gilbert, K. E., Tonge, N. A., & Thompson, R. J. (2019). Associations between depression, anxious arousal and manifestations of psychological inflexibility. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 62, 88-96.

Kato, T. (2016). Impact of psychological inflexibility on depressive symptoms and sleep difficulty in a Japanese sample. SpringerPlus, 5(1).

Khazanov, G. K., & Ruscio, A. M. (2016). Is low positive emotionality a specific risk factor for depression? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 142(9), 991-1015.

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Murray, L. E., & O’Neill, L. (2019). Neuroticism and extraversion mediate the relationship between having a sibling with developmental disabilities and anxiety and depression symptoms. Journal of Affective Disorders, 243, 232-240.

Schwartz-Mette, R. A., & Smith, R. L. (2016). When does co-rumination facilitate depression contagion in adolescent friendships? Investigating intrapersonal and interpersonal factors. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47(6), 1–13.

Van Beveren, M.-L., Harding, K., Beyers, W., & Braet, C. (2017). Don’t worry, be happy: The role of positive emotionality and adaptive emotion regulation strategies for youth depressive symptoms. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 18–41.

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PsychologyWriting. "Personality Psychology and Depression." January 30, 2022.